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The genocide happening right now

Azerbaijan, an American “ally,” is starving Armenian Christians

The Armenian Genocide Memorial in Vanashen, Armenia Wikimedia Commons

The genocide happening right now

Few Americans are aware that at this very moment, 120,000 Armenian Christians are being starved to death by a blockade imposed by the Muslim-majority nation of Azerbaijan. Even fewer are aware of America’s historic role in standing up for Armenian Christians.

Between 1894 and 1924, more than 1.5 million Armenian Christians were murdered by successive Turkish regimes, simply because of who they were and what they believed. There is no doubt that this murderous campaign was a genocide.

But in the middle of that genocide, something amazing happened. Thousands of ordinary Americans stepped up to raise money, to volunteer, and to push their leaders to act. And leaders and celebrities helped, too: Clara Barton, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Juliet Ward Howe, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Ezra Pound, H.L. Mencken, William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, Stephen Crane, William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Edison, Fiorello La Guardia, George Eastman, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Bernard Baruch, Al Smith, and Mark Twain all played a role in this effort—and that’s an abbreviated list.

It was the first large-scale international religious freedom effort in U.S. history—and it was massively successful. Because of those Americans, today’s equivalent of over $1 billion was raised, more than a million refugees were helped, and 132,000 orphans were saved—orphans whose descendants live on today.

It's an incredible story, a testament to the American people and to their willingness to take a stand.

But sadly, 100 years later, the threat against Armenians continues—and not just in some abstract way. Right now, 120,000 Armenian Christians are being blockaded inside a part of their homeland by Azerbaijan, one of America’s “allies.” The blockade, which has been going on for 9 months, is preventing food, medicine, and other basic supplies from reaching the civilians inside—all in an effort to starve them out and cleanse the Armenian presence from the land.

The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, has declared the blockade to be a genocide. In his words, “There are no crematories and there are no machete attacks. Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.”

American leadership on this issue has been embarrassingly absent for a nation that claims to stand for international religious freedom.

This is happening on our watch.

American leadership on this issue has been embarrassingly absent for a nation that claims to stand for international religious freedom. It is time for American leaders to publicly condemn the blockade in the harshest possible terms, and to pressure the Biden administration to use the full force of American leverage to see that it is lifted.

Part of the problem is the turmoil that grips our domestic affairs. These days, it’s popular to call for America’s withdrawal from the world because of our failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and our perceived overcommitments in Ukraine. No doubt the United States needs a massive overhaul in its foreign policy and greater attention to mounting cultural and economic problems at home.

But isolationism, even the well-intentioned kind, is the surest way to empower the world’s worst regimes and undermine our own security. The leaders of Russia, China, and Iran are zealous supporters of American retreat, eager to fill any void that we leave behind. We can withdraw, but we can’t complain about what follows.

And so, we face a dilemma: Engage or disengage, we pay a price. The question is whether it’s easier to hold back the chaos proactively, from a position of strength, or fight back after it engulfs the world.

But there’s an ethical question as well: What duty does our great power lay upon us with respect to the downtrodden, especially when their persecutors are funded and empowered by us? There is no doubt that Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey, the instigators of the siege now crushing Armenians, benefit from substantial weaponry and aid from the United States. The only matter up for discussion is what obligation that places on us to stop them.

Once upon a time, long before the Iraq War, the American people were confident in their values and in their ability to do good in the world—and they did it, stewarding their God-given resources to save lives. We did it before, and we can do it again. It requires only resolve, tempered with prudence.

The Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million innocent Christians in the Armenian genocide. It is our duty as Christians and Americans to ensure that our allies don’t finish the job.

Robert Nicholson

Robert Nicholson is president and executive director of The Philos Project.

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